While most retirees are playing golf, busy basking in the Florida sun or playing endless games of bridge, Elmer J. Hall has spent his retirement years writing five books about Sparrows Point, where he grew up in the Bungalows, the now-demolished company town neighborhood.
He has written about the town of Sparrows Point, Bethlehem Steel Corp., shipbuilding, and the Patapsco and Back Rivers Railroad.
His latest book, “The Sparrows Point Line: Chronicles of the Red Rocket, 1903-1958,” tells the story of the No. 26 line, the 17-mile route that stitched downtown Baltimore to Dundalk and Sparrows Point, aboard swaying cars that were painted red and yellow and were lovingly called “Red Rockets,” until they were replaced by modern PCCs.
Once arriving at Sparrows Point Station, riders then transferred to another car for the journey to Bay Shore Park, which was an amusement park and beach on the Chesapeake Bay, and a respite from the city’s sweltering summer heat.
Steelworkers, military personnel bound for Fort Howard, and regular riders were the line’s bread-and-butter from 1903, when it opened, until the last car squealed around the Sparrows Point Loop on August 30, 1958, the last day of service. Buses took over the next day.
Hall’s book, which comes in at 424 pages, is illustrated with hundreds of photos -- 36 in color -- and includes the work of noted streetcar chronicler Ed Miller, who extensively photographed the 26 line and whose photos are in the permanent collection of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.
For those who have no recollection of the 26, Hall has included helpful maps, schedules, diagrams, reflections of those who either worked or rode the line, and a handy glossary of terms.
Hall employs an interesting technique by utilizing a No. 26 conductor who takes readers on an actual ride via paper pointing out significant landmarks along the way.
I know of no other book that is so meticulously dedicated to preserving the memory of a single Baltimore streetcar line.
“My purpose has always been singular,” Hall said. “To preserve the memory of my birthplace, its history and its people.”